FOOD IN GREECE

Perhaps it would be best if we started this topic by answering the question, "what do Greeks eat?" The answer of course would be: Greek food!

Being at the crossroads between east and west, Greek cuisine has been infused with the best of both worlds. Some of the most eclectic tastes from the west balance against some of the more raw and upbeat tastes from the east on Greek tables.

The main ingredient you will probably find in just about every Greek dish is olive oil. Olive oil is the energy food that fueled a splendid civilization in ancient times, and the one item that every Greek home cannot be without.

Even though consumption has declined over the years, you will find at least a five gallon container of olive oil in the vast majority of homes, most of which comes not from from a store but from a known source. Greeks have a very refined taste of olive oil, and would prefer to buy their annual supply directly from the farmers. With millions of olive trees dotting the Greek landscape, every inhabitant of the country has their own, or at least know of someone who could supply them with the bulk of their oil needs.

Other major ingredients include liberal use of lemon juice, pepper, oregano, garlic, and tomatoes in different iterations (fresh, peeled, paste, etc.). In terms of meat, while most would associate sheep and goat as the main consumed products, according to a study by the Agricultural University of Athens (link) "pork holds first place among consumers' preferences, covering 35.6% of total consumption, poultry covers 21.7%, bovine meat covers 20.3%, and goat and sheep meat cover 14.8%."

Rice, pasta, and potatoes are also found in many Greek dishes.

What to Eat when in Greece

The water in Greece

  • The water in Greece is safe to drink out of the tap. In our own visits to Greece we often drink the water out of the tap, but we just as often buy bottled water which comes in many sizes and is very inexpensive.

Every table in the summer would include a communal plate of Greek salad. You meals most likely include a plate too ("horiatiki salata" = village salad, is best). Since the country is a major exporter of fruits and vegetables chances are good that your salad would be made with fresh, and very tasty ingredients.

With so much sea shore surrounding the land and the islands, fresh fish of any kind (you can ask to see the fish before it is cooked) would be an excellent choice, albeit a pricey one.

Other visitors' favorites include Kalamari= squid (fried or sautéed with onions and red wine) and the famous abroad Gyros (gee'ros.) As you will find out not all gyros are created equal, ask the locals for the best restaurant, or look for the establishment that is full of locals.

While many non-Greeks frown at the idea of eating Octopus, those who do try it find its taste unique and very agreeable. It can be cooked grilled on charcoal with lemon, boiled, or prepared into a cold salad. Similarly, squid (Kalamari), and Cattlefish (Soupia) offer a unique taste and texture either served on their own, stuffed with cheese, or mixed with pasta. All three of the above can be eaten either as a meal, as an appetizer, or as "mezedes" (tappas) accompanying ouzo and white wine.

You can find individual Spinach Pies (spanakopita), and Cheese Pie (Tyropita) in fast-food joints around every town in Greece, and they are ideal for a quick breakfast or snack on-the-go. You can also eat them as appetizers with either lunch or dinner, but home-made pies have a richer taste and are hearty enough to have as a main course.

Greek Restaurants

fish dishAlthough one can find different ethnic foods in Athens, the great majority of restaurants in Greece serve only one variety of food: Greek food! To most people who consider "variety" to come from different types of cuisines this might sound rather monotonous, but Greek food comes in many shapes, forms, and varieties to keep even the most demanding traveler satisfied.

Restaurants in Greece come in many different sizes and varieties as well. There are the "touristy" restaurants that would normally serve what travelers most often desire, and there are restaurants that cater exclusively to tourists . If you visit Greece as part of a tour group, chances are that you will mostly frequent such establishments. The food quality and service in both cases is exceptional, and the restaurants themselves are very clean. You normally find them in or around the most touristy spots of Greece (like Olympia) and the tour buses automatically unload their passengers at such restaurants before or after a visit to a major archaeological site. The prices vary but as a rule they are high, although they are often included in the tour price for a substantial discount.

Fruit

Greece is a fruit-producing country. In the summer you can indulge in fresh melons, peaches, apricots, and the ubiquitous watermelons.

On the rural roads in Greece you will see little kiosks where the farmers sell produce and fresh fruits. Don't miss out on the opportunity to buy some fresh fruit if you pass one.

There are also restaurants that cater mostly to tourists away from archaeological sites. They are located in the busiest parts of town, such as the waterfront of most coastal towns and islands. They also exhibit exceptional service, delicious food, and moderate to high prices. In fact, the closer you get to the waterfront, the higher the prices seem to climb. But there is no price too high to pay for a late dinner right next to the slithering reflections of the moon over the gentle waves.

A little farther wandering around the narrow streets of most cities will reveal the places that the locals frequent. Although there is no written rule that establishes such restaurants as better than others, a little exploration might reward the visitor with a restaurant that offers great Greek food at great prices, and in an authentic local atmosphere. An option worth checking out if you are budget conscious, or if you plan to stay in one place for a long time.

Restaurants are most often referred to as "Tavernas" of "Fish Tavernas" (Psarotaverna) if the main focus on the menu is seafood.

What's on the Menu

shrimp dishEvery restaurant in Greece is obligated by law to exhibit the menu with prices by the entrance. This way you can stroll down a street, and browse at all the menus and prices before you make a decision to enter a certain restaurant. Often, there is a waiter by the door that will politely (and sometimes insistently) try to entice you to enter their restaurant.

While the menus exhibit all the current prices, you might notice next to certain items the notation "current market value" instead of a price. Items such as fresh seafood are almost impossible to determine a set price for the menu. Once inside the restaurant the waiter will make sure that you are informed of all the available fresh fish varieties , and will display the fish for you to make a choice. It is wise to make sure that you are at least verbally informed of the price of the fish you choose before it is cooked. (Read more about prices in Greece.)

Most everything on a Greek taverna menu is straight forward. You may choose from a great variety of Greek delicacies like Pasticcio, Mousaka, or giuvetsi, or from a variety of pasta dishes. Greeks often ignore menu items when ordering and instead they custom order their own plates and most often order much more food than is possible to consume!

The Taverna Atmosphere

 

Greek dinner starts sometime around 10:00 PM and ends sometime after 1:00 or two AM!
The atmosphere of most tavernas (especially the ones the locals frequent) is most festive into the wee hours of the morning with loud conversations which relegate the Greek music to a background role, children running everywhere, cigarette smoke mixed with the aromas of tasty dishes, small cats under tables in search of scraps, and much beer and wine flowing happily from glass to mouth.

It is amazing to see that on most nights, every taverna in every Greek town is packed with people! Greeks don't wait for the weekend to go out, and after a good meal they enjoy a few more hours of conversation and drinks at the table, or at a nearby cafeteria, or bar. It goes without saying that there is no closing hour established for restaurants, bars, cafeterias and night clubs. About ten years ago the government almost toppled when they tried to establish a 4:00 AM closing time for night clubs! No government has since attempted the same feat.

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